[Sorcerer] Cascadiapunk post-mortem

Started by Joel P. Shempert, November 22, 2008, 12:08:07 AM

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Joel P. Shempert

Hi, Joy (is that your name? What would you like to be called?),

I have to admit I'm finding your post a bit hard to follow. I've been mulling it over for a week now, trying to hit at a fruitful discussion vector, but I can't follow the thread of your comment, it just looks like a bunch of disparate observations and opinion to me. So I'm going to have to reply kinda piecemeal. Sorry.

I have to disagree with your assertion that it wasn't a failure to establish expectations up front. You even said it yourself: Sorcerer (or indeed any game) isn't built to function without that foundation. Therefore, to play Sorcerer we needed to establish that, and not doing so was a failure. I'm frankly not interested in "changing houserules for all!" or "everyone enjoys what they like out of play and sort of tolerates the rest" or any other description you could tag unfocused (if not downright Incoherent) play with.

I mean, sure, I don't think we needed to sit and talk interminably about every last little detail of play and what it's going to be like and why it's cool and what we all want out of it, on and on and on. but a basic establishing discussion of what you do in the game and why and how, based on a focused set of parameters, would have been just what the doctor ordered. Ron's Color and Reward resonates with me as a powerful set of just such parameters. I think we got halfway there with Reward (they knew about Sorcerer's basic question, and about Kicker resolution, but a lot of the "how to do that" stuff was missing), but Color was woefully amorphous--without a strong focusing concept, we found it difficult to draw everyone's individual contributions and expectations together.

This bit though, is spot-on:

Quote from: JoyWriter on December 10, 2008, 08:39:56 PM
So fitting this back into practical, your playing this Bard and people hear you make this song and say "cool, but I don't know how to respond to that, so is it just for applause?". They don't know how to react in a way that fits what both of you want.

That's exactly what it was like. Thing is, I think the opening scene WAS just for "applause," in the sense that I just wanted to "make an entrance," to impress everyone with my cool new character, and impress all these new friends with my cool "roleplaying" chops. There was no content to it, no substance. Which can be fine, sometimes Color is just Color. . .but in this case it was only Color because I didn't really know what to do with the character. The image in my mind of the Bard as a protagonist in motion was fuzzy, elusive. So even when I, unlike my "entrance" scene, was trying to be proactive with him, to take actions toward a purpose, I still didn't have any idea what I was doing. So I got a lot of shrugs and puzzled looks in response.

One other thing: "buy-in" isn't about 'forcing yourself to comply" with a game in order to get some return on it, in some sort of "I put in the hard time, now you OWE me, game! You owe me big!" arrangement. Buy-in is about being enthusiastically engaged from the get-go about what this game does and how it does it. Yeah, if you don't get the pay-off that you bought into, you're right to be disappointed, but it's not about putting up with stuff you don't like to get stuff you do like. Good lord, no.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.


Quote from: Melinglor on December 17, 2008, 05:53:22 PM

One other thing: "buy-in" isn't about 'forcing yourself to comply" with a game in order to get some return on it, in some sort of "I put in the hard time, now you OWE me, game! You owe me big!" arrangement. Buy-in is about being enthusiastically engaged from the get-go about what this game does and how it does it.

Lol, "Your not leaving my house till you give me FUN!"
I meant forcing yourself in the same way little kids wait for their afters, it's just self control, but perhaps the less you need the better, or at least, the more you use the more payoff there should be. I think we relegate this stuff to children too quickly, because in my experience Adults just have bigger patience/self control limits, so after a busy day/week, letting some of it go can be a big part of relaxation. But I'm sure you get that, so we're probably just talking at cross purposes.

"Lack of buy in" can be a defence for fragile or weak system design, although I think we both agree all systems are fragile to some degree, because they won't work for everyone. Now obviously you know the dividing line in this case better than me, but I've been trying to insure that a fruitful exploration of how the game didn't fit doesn't just get swallowed up in a catch-all explanation. If buy in is close to a synonym for "participation" then by itself it doesn't move us much forward. But there are economic and semi-macho/contract connotations in the word which I wanted to flag up, because sustaining an initial commitment is I think as much about what comes after, as what happens when you say it.

How so? Cause of emergence. Random stuff is always going to come up, the game as played by you should have unique qualities different from any previous group, because it comes from you. Any game based on narrative power must play like this, it seems to me, because it is built off of players (inc. GM) expressing themselves. So the initial agreement to play cannot encompass in advance all of the things that will run hot or cold for the players. Some might be more awesome than expected, others less.

So what is this fragility? Basically a game should ideally become more coherent as it progresses, as players get pulled together and the world or even the rules structure adapts to suit the unique group you have. I'm actually quite interested in incoherent play, as long as it tends rapidly towards coherence. I tried to generalise that in my explanations of building up a flow of self-reinforcing play.

I'm not surprised it seems a little disjointed, as my thread of thoughts were held together by the concept of "Autopoiesis of Social Systems" which is a pretty damn clever idea by this Chilean biologist/philosopher guy called Maturana. But he writes really dryly, so I decided to pull all of his theory stuff out of my posts until I could find a more human way to say it. Skip the next paragraph if you don't want it.

It's this kind of stuff: If every person is a constantly self-generating system, any social structure that is also self-sustaining must bolster the people who make it up. If it doesn't, it becomes this semi-pointless structure that gobbles up more than it gives back, and slowly runs down. On the other hand it can strengthen the self-expression of it's members and generally give them good times. So a social structure reinforces itself either because the roles that people have within it do them some good, or those people who it does do good encourage the others to stay acting as part of it.
Now the idea of self-generation is quite broad, as it encompasses everything from metabolic activity to artistic self-expression. It's about someone constantly exerting their own existence in the world and changing as they do. So that's one theory angle, hope it helps.

So perhaps you can see where I'm coming from now a little better? I'm trying to insure that the requirement of player satisfaction is not front-loaded into a huge specification before play begins. As Sorcerer is a modern game, built with theory in mind, it seems like some of the "bad old days" situations can't apply, but is it possible that something like your Ranger episode could occur in a newer game? Halfway through a continuing game you suddenly find a new way to play that really fires you up, or someone you are GM'ing for does. This then is not merely about initial buy in, but the broader concept as I put it, which is about the continuing matching up of what you're doing and "how the game works". Now to be fair I made this so much more flexible as to include "grit your teeth till we get the awesome loot". But I think even in the most blissed out gaming, there will be a lot of forgiving of little niggles that you wouldn't have put in if you designed the game yourself, or behaviours of other players that don't quite match what you expected for your character.

Now as I understood it, reward structures mean that even if you find out some new way to play, you presumably still care about the other stuff, the kickers and the demons, so they keep things together while the game gently starts to incorporate the new stuff you're doing. In a sense I think I accidentally added a third element, which I don't have a word for. Responsiveness?

The only alternative to being responsive and flexible to internal changes/revelations, is to try and shut them down, or operate in a situation where they will likely not happen, by only playing with people you know. It seems like Ron's gut instinct (or long practised analysis) is to go for the initial conditions of the game. Mine is to look at in game communication and understanding, as I have a strong tendency to try to drift and develop every game I'm in, and perhaps Ron gets it from being a practised designer. Who knows, but it may well be that your original game could have been saved, and thinking of ways to do that should be pretty useful.

Call me JW if you like, I matched my username initials to my normal ones.

Joel P. Shempert


Honestly, that "self-generating systems, social structure" stuff just makes me go, "well, sure." It's a nicely cogent and methodical description of the phenomenon, but I can't see where it adds anything to our understanding in the current conversation. I especially think that Ron's talk of the "Color and Reward" cycle is saying exactly that self-generating in social structure" thing in a different way.

Now, maybe you're presenting this as a way of checking my understanding of the concept. If so, lemme just reiterate, sure, I understand it OK, you've given me a nice model for further conceptualizing it, and we're done. If there's something further you want to build off the Maturana framework, by all means, but from my vantage point it just looks like a restatement of the whole undergirding of our discussion.

As far as your implicit question of "what if it was just that the game itself was weak?" I can only respond that I've arrived at my current understanding and purpose vis a vis Sorcerer through a concentrated effort of discussion, understanding and preparation. I don't feel that the game's framework was weak, because I've developed a methodical understanding of how it's strong. I think the conditions for convincing me otherwise would have to include me participating in a group which had clear communication, compatible play goals, and which played to those strengths and still flopped. So at this point asking the question 'what if Sorcerer just doesn't work?" seems fairly worthless. To paraphrase Chesterton, "Sorcerer has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried." I'd need a lot more experience to overturn that impression.

But I know you were asking a very general question, not challenging Sorcerer per se. I just don't see a lot of value in considering that dimension just now. And I don't think we're in danger of collapsing all iscussion of solution into just one phrase. On the contrary, I think we're working out just what goes into a functional practice of "buy-in" as it relates to RPGs. Unpacking the phrase, if you will.

As far as "what if the players find something else fun to do in the game?" goes, I'm not really sure how to speak to that. I'm still working on getting functional buy-in in the first place, so asking "what if you get functional buy-in and then someone decides they want to buy in to something else?" feels a bit like racing ahead. My gut answer though, is that buy-in implies a maturity and responsibility such that an individual player can control their impulses at least to the degree of refraining from launching into a metal solo in the middle of a Coltrane tune. At the very least there should be robust enough communication that a discussion of change in direction can take place.

Maybe Ron an address these points a little more completely? I'm still pretty much in the pupil role on this topic.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

Regarding the content of this term "buy-in," I should point to a concept I've written about over and over, and often quoted in the following construction. I should stress that I'm using any social leisure activity as the empirical basis for it, with a special point about role-playing.

1. You have to trust that the procedures work - look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people - important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to "with anybody who'll let me"

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue

My call is that role-playing, as a hobby and subculture, has failed to accept this idea, historically. And as such, the base-line for any sort of successful, fun participation for any other activity is, in role-playing, something of a mystic unknown. Many, many groups and even publishing strategies have developed what I consider to be compensatory mechanisms for its lack, none of which seem to have panned out well. An example of that is what's come to be called, here, "Zilchplay," meaning the activity is effectively devalued and its content not evaluated. Others have developed a way to relate to their hobby in which their enjoyment is based mainly on reading about play and selectively remembering it rather than doing it.

So I want to stress here, in this thread, that I am not talking about any kind of special buy-in, any particular requirement for Sorcerer, or any particular requirement even for role-playing as such. I am talking about what, for any other person, engaged in any other activity, considers to be the basic requirement. It only seems special, particular, or in need of deconstruction to us because we are role-players.

Best, Ron

David Berg

Sure!  We are roleplayers, which often means that when we get together in a group for the first time to try a game that's new to us, we have to work up to that basic level of buy-in.  Not like a soccer team that's been practicing for a while... but exactly like a bunch of kids showing up to their first practice to find out if they like soccer.

Do these procedures produce something I enjoy?  If so, then I'll trust them.

Are these people nice?  Do they want what I want out of this activity?  If so, then I'll play with them.

Is this activity worth putting any effort into, for the sake of getting better at it?  Depends on answers to the above.

That "working up to buy-in" interaction can be easy, and it can be hard.  If saying "understanding leads to madness as Mythos Lore devours Sanity" makes it easier -- and saying "if you show up and play you get to see the GM's cool plot unfold!" makes it harder -- then I'm grateful for any pointers in the right direction!

Joel, I wish I had some for you.  I hope Ron's example to me was helpful to you too.  It's given me an interesting new way to look at some stuff.  Once I actually get the damn ToC group together, I'll chime in with how the orientation speech went.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Joel P. Shempert


Quote from: David Berg on December 20, 2008, 10:20:24 PM
I hope Ron's example to me was helpful to you too.  It's given me an interesting new way to look at some stuff.

Yeah, it has. Especially the whole "just state what you do, don't try to sell it or push it as fun" principle. While I can definitely approach people who I believe might find a particular game rewarding, I think letting the Reward cycle stand on its own, letting prospective players opt to buy in rather than a more missionary-like approach that can be off-putting. Or, and this just occurred to me, running the risk of your friends agreeing to your proposal because you're so excited about it (after all, they're you're friends, right?), and getting a kind of fake buy-in. That kind of "sure, whatever you say" dynamic is a detriment to true dialog about what players want/enjoy and what they've actually bought into. I think something like this happened with my Sorcerer group.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Joel P. Shempert

Say, Ron:

I was reviewing the thread and there's a couple of things I'd like to consider exploring, but purely on a conditional, "if you think they're fruitful lines of discussion," basis. If not, then I think I'm ready to put the thread to bed (and start working on a Cascadiapunk one-sheet!).

1) Early on you mentioned,

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 02, 2008, 01:56:14 PM
I wrote up some of my personal takes on those instances, and then realized it was not right to do so. I wasn't there. And most importantly, dissecting out such an instance and trying to pin down why it was "wrong" or "not fun for me" in that particular case is wasted attention, when the event arose very logically from the lack of buy-in in the first place.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts solely from a standpoint of where I handled things poorly as GM, and as they relate to lack of buy-in. Such as, where I missed cues that we weren't all bought in, or hindered/exacerbated the buy-in status. I guess what I'm mostly looking for is greater recognition of buy-in "tells."

I agree that armchair quarterbacking in general isn't productive, much as I'm dying to know what you think, if you "side" with me on various incidents, whatever. But I think my directed query above could have some merit.

2) Are there any observations you'd like to share based on my two play examples? I think they were useful to me just to state and ponder, but since you asked for them I'm wondering if you have anywhere further to take them.

If the answer to both questions is "nada," then I guess I'm done!

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.


Hey Melinglor,

I hope you won't wrap things up just yet, as I've been going through your previous posts on this game trying to get a handle on it, seems like a shame to waste that analysis. As a preliminary thing it seems like the players worked quite well when it was just you+them+the setting. I don't have any concrete cause yet, but perhaps the rising complexity or creative conflicts were an issue.


Hmm I think I'm going to cut my losses! I haven't really got enough info from the history to make something concrete. I'll leave the stuff I've been thinking about for when I get my Universalis game up and running, which should hopefully be soon.

Joel P. Shempert

Sounds good. I'll look for it! Sorry I didn't get back to you, but I just haven't been able to muster any further thought on the thread. To move forward (at least for me) the issue needs recontextualizing, like Ron's doing in the Color First Character Creation Project over in the Endeavor forums. to that end, I was going to suggest that you take your observations to an Actual Play thread of your own. Which you're doing, so great! Best of luck, JW.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.